Saturday, September 25, 2010

1 Corinthians 13

Sarah Ruden has written a new book that opened some new windows for me on Paul and his letters. Ruden with a background in Greek and Roman classics reads Paul against that background. It makes for a fascinating and exciting book. For instance, discussing 1 Corinthians 13 she says it's like he catches himself when he gets to v31 of ch.12. He has been talking about how the body of Christ works together with all its separate parts. He asks a series of questions that betrays some irritability on his part. Then, he catches himself, wait a minute, what's missing here. Its love, agape, in Greek, a selfless love. Ruden notes that Paul shifts to first person (after all the times I have read this chapter and preached on it, why did I never notice it is Paul speaking in the first person after he has just taught about the workings of the body of Christ?). He is writing that " he is worthless in all of his achievements if he does not have love." If he speaks in tongues, or does miracles or has a faith that moves mountains but does not have love, it is all worthless! It is an amazing revelation.

Then Ruden notes Paul shifts to the third person and writes this beautiful description of what love is. In our translations there are lots of adjectives but in Greek there is not a single one. It is all verbs; love is a verb. She says if love is not an ethereal, abstract standard .... could be it is the Living God who loves the ones who are loving others with his love. Suppose this is his love loving us so that we can love with the love that loves us. She says.

Then Paul shifts back to first person again. If we practice this love we grow up into who God wants us to be. If we don't practice this love, we remain children, we don't see ourselves clearly. But, when we get it and practice love, we can see the face of God.

In the church our attention is on so many things: worship music, the sermon, the offering, who is doing what behind the scenes so Sunday morning comes off with some kind of structure, etc. But none of this is worth beans, says Paul, without love. Agape love which is a selfless love. Which is a verb. Talking about love is worthless without loving. Without love being a verb.

It has been said I (we) talk about love too much ( and grace). There is some truth in that. Not that we talk about it too much, but that we need to balance out all our talking about love with much more doing love. In fact, I could stop talking about it altogether and just work on doing it.